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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868).

La Petite Messe Solennelle. Orchestral version
Rina Ginster, (soprano); Bruna Castagna, (mezzo soprano); Charles Kullman (tenor); Leonard Warren, (baritone)
Westminster Choir. New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/John Barbirolli
Live broadcast. April 9th 1939
CD 2. ‘BARBIROLLI RARITIES’
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Un ballo in Maschera, ‘Eri tu?’ (Lawrence Tibbett, bar)
Georges Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

"Ring Out, Wild Bells" (Lawrence Tibbett)
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/John Barbirolli
Live broadcast recording. December 29th 1940

Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Samson et Dalila, ‘Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix’ (Kathryn Meisle, m.sop)
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/John Barbirolli
Live recording 1938
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Parsifal, Act 1 'Grail Scene'
‘Mein Sohmn, Amfortas, bist du am Amt' (Norman Cordon, bass)
‘Nein!... Lafst ihn unenthüllt!’ (Richard Bonelli, bar.)
‘Nehmet hin meinen Blut’ (Chorus)
‘O! Heilige Wonne. Wie hell grüfst uns heute der Herr!’ (Norman Cordon, bass)
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/John Barbirolli
Live broadcast recording from Carnegie Hall. 17 April 1938
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Lieder, ‘Verführung’, ‘Gesang der Apollopriesterin’ (Rose Pauly, sop)
Salome, Final Scene: (Rose Pauly, sop)
‘Ah! Du wolltest mich nicht’
‘Und deine Zunge’
‘Oh! Warum hast du mich nicht angesehn Jokanaan?’
‘Ach! lch habe deinen Mund geküsst’
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/John Barbirolli
Live broadcast recording from Carnegie Hall. February 24th 1938
Bargain Price.
GUILD IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES GHCD 2254/2255 [76.01 and 69.37]

 

In his background and recording notes (p 21 of the booklet) Richard Caniell states, of the Rossini ‘Messe’ that ‘the problems on the original acetates were so enormous that at first I gave up all hope of making a restoration’. He justifies the effort and results in terms of what Barbirolli achieves in an electrifying account of the final movement of the ‘Agnus Dei’ (CD1 tr.13) Given that this is a performing version of Rossini’s 1867 orchestral arrangement of his 1864 original (keyboard accompanied and more intimate) I am uncertain about the virtues of that adjective. Rossini orchestrated his ‘little mass’, as he nicknamed it in a little pun, on the basis that if he didn’t do it himself then somebody else would, and take the profit! In my view, as one who heard many Barbirolli concerts in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, this issue is ill-conceived. Whether to restrict the intrusion of considerable surface noise or keep the aural distortions to a minimum, the recording is set at a very low level and, at times, nearly fades altogether.

A performance of this work is highly dependent on the singers. Here, in the ‘Domine Deus’, with its echoes of ‘Cujus animam’ (Stabat Mater), the tenor sounds rather bleating (tr. 4) whilst in the following ‘Qui Tollis’ (tr. 5) the mezzo is far too heavy-toned and the soprano has a very fluttery vibrato. Barbirolli draws excellent phrasing from the harp and orchestra but this is a very poorly recorded track with excessive surface noise. This is also the problem with the orchestral ‘Preludio Religioso’ (tr. 9) with thin and wavery strings allied to the extraneous noises. Given the poor recording quality, which far too often reminded me of ‘pirate’ LPs, I do not see the value or virtue of this issue.

In respect of the ‘Rarities’, as they are titled, on the second CD, certainly the recorded sound is better, but there is also plenty of surface noise to be heard too. Lawrence Tibbett is full toned and resonant, if a little stretched by the tessitura of ‘Eri tu’ (CD 2 tr. 1), whilst Kathryn Meisle is recorded very forward of distorted orchestral sound (CD2 tr.3). Meisle’s voice is smooth and resonant with choppy phrasing and thinning tone as the key rises. Hers is a voice of no great distinction. The same comment might also be applied to the singers in the Wagner (CD 2 trs. 5-9). These are second line house singers from the ‘Met’. This is not true of Rose Pauly, born 1894 in Eperjes in Hungary. She was a leading dramatic soprano in Europe and the leading Elektra of her day. Richard Strauss was a great admirer of her singing but his influence was unable to prevent the Nazis from banning her, first from Germany, and then in Austria. She left mainland Europe in 1937 and sang at the Met 1938-1940 as well as making acclaimed appearances in South America and Covent Garden. Her full-toned singing and expressive phrasing are heard to admirable effect in the two Strauss orchestral lieder (CD 2 trs. 10-11). As Salome she lightens her tone and gives a fiercely agonised and dramatic interpretation of the final scene of the opera (trs. 12-15). There is little background noise on these Strauss tracks and the recording is clear with the voice forward and the orchestra heard clearly without distortion. Indeed, the final dramatic chords are thrillingly caught whilst JB’s conducting shows his wide experience in the opera house. Collectors and Barbirolli enthusiasts must decide for themselves if the virtues of the Strauss performance justify purchase. As to the remainder ‘caveat emptor’.

I am sure better recordings of Barbirolli’s conducting skill will come to light as his musical genius becomes more appreciated, as now seems to be happening. Walter Legge and HMV were far too concerned with Klemperer and Beecham for us to have the extended Barbirolli discography his genius deserved. Issues such as this will do little to repair that deficiency.

Robert J Farr

 



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